“We know that we can prevent about a third of all cancers if people would maintain a healthy weight, eat a plant-based diet and be physically active,” says Alice Bender, registered dietitian with the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

Walter Willett, MD, head of Harvard School of Public Health’s department of nutrition says there is “. . . a massive amount of evidence . . .”  showing that overweight or obese people have higher rates of many different cancers.

Beyond weight control, exercising regularly and not smoking, diet plays a crucial role in protecting against cancer.

In a ground-breaking study begun in 1995, researchers at the National Institutes of Health followed more than half a million AARP volunteers age 50 and older to see if and how diet influences health.

The results of the NIH-AARP study provide the strongest evidence to date of links between diet and cancer in older Americans.

People who ate abundant vegetables, (dried) beans, nuts, whole grains, olive oil and fish and little red meat, processed meat and butter had fewer cases of both cancer and heart disease, concluded Rashmi Sinha, deputy chief of the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“Men and women (in the NIH-AARP study) who consumed the highest amount of dietary fiber were less likely to die from any cause,” reported researcher Yikyung Park of the NCI in a 2011 paper.

Park found a link between fiber and a reduced risk of cancer death in men and said fiber from whole grains was more protective than fiber from fruits and vegetables.

Here are some specific links between specific foods and cancer:

Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, radishes, cabbage and cauliflower protect against several cancers.

A variety of fruits protect against mouth, neck, lung and stomach cancers.

Red-orange fruits and vegetables, such as cantaloupe, carrots and sweet potatoes, protect against mouth cancers.

Red fruits and vegetables contain the nutrient lycopene.  It’s found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, red cabbage and beets and helps protect against prostate cancer.  And tomatoes cooked with a small amount of sauce, as in pasta sauce, improves the body’s ability to absorb the lycopene.

Coffee reduces the risk of endometrial cancer.  Drinking four or more cups a day, both caf and decaf, lowered the risk of cancer of the colon compared to non-drinkers.

Sinha theorizes coffee may help protect against colon cancer because it reduces “transit times”—the less time food waste spends in the colon, the lower the risk of colon cancer.  He tempers his conclusion with “There are about 1,000 compounds in coffee . . . We have only begun to skim the surface with these compounds.”

My Take on the study: I’ve read of other studies that concluded that any hot water taken in the morning, whether it’s tea, coffee or just plain water, reduces “transit time.”

Interesting that the regimen many follow to lower their risks of heart disease also lowers their risk of cancers.

Coming up:  Foods that increase cancer risks

Source:    AARP Bulletin, December 2012                


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